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Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Loo Tai Cho Building is a three-storey, brick-clad commercial and residential building located on the south side of Fisgard Street in the heart of Victoria's Chinatown. The building also extends south and marks the northern entry to Fan Tan Alley. The corner of the building is bevelled at the entrance to the Alley, and has a distinctive Juliet balcony at the second floor. One of the more imposing buildings on Fisgard Street, it is embellished with sheet metal ornamentation.
The Loo Tai Cho Building is valued as part of a grouping of early buildings that contribute to the historic character and urban pattern of Victoria's Chinatown, the oldest and most intact Chinatown in Canada. In the 1850s, exacerbated by political and social turmoil in China, thousands of Chinese migrated from a small region in the southern province of Guangdong to frontier gold rush sites in California, setting up a permanent base in San Francisco. In 1858, the Fraser Gold Rush spurred the growth of Victoria as a significant port town, and prompted the movement of many Chinese into the province. Victoria was the primary point of entry for Chinese into Canada until the early twentieth century.
The building is also representative of the dominant role Chinese merchants played in Victoria's Chinatown. Chinese merchants, already established in San Francisco, moved to Victoria and purchased lots as early as 1858, opening stores backed by funding from San Francisco headquarters. The Loo Tai Cho building was a product of the second wave of merchants who immigrated to Victoria's Chinatown in the 1890s to 1910s. Loo Gee Wing purchased the east side of Lot 444 from William J. Macdonald and the west side of 443 from Henry Heisterman in 1890. Loo Tai Cho purchased the land from Loo Gee Wing in 1893 and this building was erected the same year for stores and tenements. Cho retained it until 1907, when it was sold to a non-Chinese family.
Victoria’s Chinatown is expressive of a duality in architecture and cultural landscape. On each block, street façades link together, forming a wall that shields interior spaces and narrow alleyways between and through buildings are linked to central courtyards which were the hidden location of tenements, opium dens, theatres and gambling houses. This configuration allowed the Chinese community to adhere to follow traditional religion, kinship and economic practices while projecting the image of assimilation to Western society. The Loo Tai Cho building is consistent with such a duality. The front, more public, façade displays traditional Western influences including sheet metal capitals, cornices and ornamentation, and a corner entry with an arched doorway and a rounded balcony. However, the second storey windows were converted from arched to square to build a ‘cheater’ floor to house additional tenants. The side façade displays a non-Western character. Fan Tan Alley, housing gambling and opium dens in the early 1900s, and was shielded from the non-Chinese community by a series of heavy wooden doors.
The building is also a significant example of the work of architect William Ridgway-Wilson (1862-1957). A prominent Victoria architect, he was responsible for projects such as South Park School (1894) as well as a number of projects for Chinese clients.
Source: City of Victoria Planning Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Loo Tai Cho Building include its:
- location on the south side of Fisgard Street, at the northern entry point to Fan Tan Alley, part of a grouping of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century historic masonry buildings in Victoria's Chinatown
- continuous commercial and residential use
- siting on the front and side property lines, with no setbacks
- commercial form, scale and massing, as expressed by its three-storey height, with 'cheater' mezzanine, bevelled corner, flat roof, and storefronts facing Fisgard Street
- masonry construction, including red-brick walls and parged pilasters
- Late Victorian design features such as: sheet metal ornamentation including cornices, capitals and cherub and floral motifs; shadow-banding on ground-floor pilasters; and corner entry with rounded archway with keystone and a round balcony
- Chinese features such as 'cheater' mezzanine, wrought-iron balconies, and three doors on the ground floor leading to tenements above
- windows, such as: two-over-two double-hung windows with square openings at 'cheater' mezzanine; second-storey two-over-two double-hung windows with horns, with three-paned segmental-arched transoms; and six-over-six double-hung wooden-sash windows on rear façade
Local Governments (BC)
Local Government Act, s.954
Community Heritage Register
Theme - Category and Type
- Developing Economies
- Trade and Commerce
Function - Category and Type
- Commerce / Commercial Services
- Shop or Wholesale Establishment
- Multiple Dwelling
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
City of Victoria Planning Department
Cross-Reference to Collection